Commentary: Happy Holidays! But Here’s the Thing…

By Stacia Erdos Liddleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – This year, for the first time I can remember, I am already feeling the Christmas spirit.

Yep, I started decorating before Thanksgiving – that has never happened. Gone is the nagging little voice in my head that’s overwhelmed me for so many years that keeps repeating, “How are you going to get this all done? There’s no way you can accomplish this while working 40-plus hours a week.”

You see, both of my children’s birthdays (and my mother’s) are in November. For as long as I’ve been a parent, the month has been filled with party planning, sending out invitations, designing cakes adorned with footballs or ballet shoes and buying birthday gifts.

That all takes place before I can even think about those letters to Santa and the tons of holiday shopping not only for my kids, but for all of the additional relatives that come with marriages, remarriages and expanding families.

I’d nearly suffer an anxiety attack if someone were to utter the words, “I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping. How about you?”

Different this year is that as of Nov. 16, both of my children are now in their 20s. And while my son pointed out that makes me “really old,” I am feeling much calmer as I prepare for the holidays.

Plus, as an empty nester, it also means –- they’re coming home. That set me on a mission to decorate the house before Thanksgiving weekend, during which we also continued our tradition of all going out and chopping down our Christmas tree.

Here’s the thing: While typically I’ve been starting out the day feeling upbeat and optimistic, for the past month or so, each morning I’m abruptly stopped in my tracks.

Here’s what happens. I’m driving to work, radio softy playing, hot coffee in my cup holder. It’s chilly yet I’m filled with the warmth of the holiday spirit. Then I come to the light at state routes 164 and 7 in North Lima, where now stands a humungous new digital billboard.

As I wait for the light to change, I can’t help but read the ads: “In All Things Give Thanks” (Greenford Christian Church), “Merry and Mini New Pancakes” (Dunkin’ Donuts), “Love where you Work” (East Liverpool City Hospital), “Youngstown State University – Small Town, Big Opportunity.” Then it changes to a glaring neon red.

Is it a picture of Santa? An ad for a big holiday event? No, smacking me in the face at 7:45 a.m. in huge bold letters is “IMPEACH BIDEN” (followed by a couple more holiday messages), then again yelling at me “DEMOCRATS ARE ERASING OUR HISTORY FOLLOWING THE SOCIALISTS PLAN FOR AMERICA – SAY NO TO SOCIALISM/COMMUNISM”(Mahoning County GOP).

At that moment I can feel my mood deflate and my anxiety rise. Yes, I voted for the current president and yes I will fight for the right of free speech to the end. But is it really in the Christmas spirit to run negative political ads during the holiday season, with no election in sight for months? Couldn’t we use that paid advertising to share a positive message of reflection, of counting our blessings, or helping those less fortunate?

I vote for giving politics a break. But if that’s not in the cards, how about a message about what those serving us in office have accomplished to make life better for our Valley over the past year?

To be clear, this is not the start of a campaign, “Remove the Billboards.” I’m simply sharing how seeing something negative can affect and change a person’s mood and outlook. And the pandemic has already had a major impact on our collective mental health.

So for the rest of this column, I am choosing to advertise some of the fantastic holiday events coming up that I know will lift my spirits and yours. Among them are the first Flea on Phelps the evening of Dec. 3, the 50th Annual American Holiday At The Butler Arts & Crafts Show, Ballet Western Reserve’s “Nutcracker” – all to take place the weekend of Dec. 4 and 5, Miracle on Easy Street – which I will watch on TV from the comfort of my couch with a cup of cocoa (OK, more likely a glass of wine), and then with Christmas only days away – The Artists of the Rust Belt Last Minute Market at the B&O Station Dec. 18 and 19. Not to mention all of the holiday light shows and other events going on no matter your religion or holiday traditions.

Now as I travel through the intersection on the way home from one of the holiday festivities, I offer up another suggestion for a more positive “political” quote to be considered for the big billboard:  “Christmas is a holiday we celebrate not as individuals nor as a nation, but as a human family.” (Ronald Reagan)  

With that I wish you and your family a joyous season filled with peace, good health, love and kindness.